Don’t Miss All of Into the Woods
By Peter Filichia
It’s one of the most musical musical movies of all time, with many more songs than spoken lines.
And yet, even with all that music and those reams of lyrics, director Rob Marshall and screenwriter James Lapine’s film of Into the Woods eliminates quite a few of Stephen Sondheim’s songs.
If you want to hear what was originally on the mind of the twentieth century’s greatest musical theater composer-lyricist, you’ll have to hear the 1987 original cast album. Among the missing in the fine feature film are:
“I Guess This Is Goodbye” – Jack (Ben Wright, who has wrongly disappeared from Broadway) has this song in which he prepares to part with his beloved cow Milky White. It’s only seven lines long, but the last one is a killer (and, in a sense, cites a killing).
“Maybe They’re Magic” – Baker (Chip Zien) and his Wife (Joanna Gleason, in a Tony-winning performance) argue about the not-so-nice way she just handled a transaction. She tries rationalizing, and once again, Sondheim saves his best joke for his last line.
“First Midnight” – It isn’t quite a song, but a piece in which the so-far-unlucky thirteen characters give an observation or two. Most deal with philosophies of life: Cinderella’s Prince (The Tony-nominated Robert Westenberg) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Chuck Wagner) believe of their women “The harder to get, the better to have.” Baker’s Wife muses “You may know what you need, but to get what you want, better see that you keep what you have.” And yet, the film’s creators did not keep what they had and eliminated this sequence.
One nifty sidelight: Just as Cinderella and The Prince in the famous fairy tale married and lived happily ever after, so too have Westenberg and Kim Crosby, who played Cinderella in Into the Woods. They’re the biggest winners of this original production.
“Ever After” — This is the show’s Act One Finale. When Into the Woods started previews, management noticed that after this number ended, many theatergoers were saying “Well, that was good!” while grabbing their coats and then leaving. The producers realized that many attendees had assumed that the happy ending they’d just seen and heard meant that the show had ended. (Why they’d infer that when they hadn’t seen a curtain call is beyond me, but …)
As a result, Sondheim and Lapine had Narrator (Tom Aldredge) add the line “To be continued!” and that kept people from heading into the night air at 9:30 p.m. And while you’ll find the two-plus minute song on this original cast album, you won’t hear Aldredge say the line.
Maybe record producer Jay David Saks felt that on record “To be continued!” was unnecessary – that if any listener believed this song was the last one on the disc, by the time he got to the CD player to remove the silver sliver, he’d start hearing the next selection and that would solve the issue.
Easy to see why this song was dropped from the film; after all that the moviegoers had witnessed, they too might have felt that “Ever After” was the logical end to the show. And you couldn’t rely on the absence of a curtain call to keep people there; aside from The Bad Seed, A Little Night Music, Plaza Suite and a few others, curtain calls are virtually non-existent in film.
But “Ever After” is quite a piece of material with an inordinate number of Sondheimian rhymes and a pulsating melody. After you know it, you may well miss it in the movie.
And if the film doesn’t have an Act One Finale, well, then, it doesn’t really need an:
Act Two Prologue: “So Happy” – Well, in theory, anyway. Given that Sondheim had started his Act One Opening with everyone’s expressing “I wish!” – and that many of their wishes came true by the end of the act – here the characters were wishing for other things now that their previous wishes had been granted.
Case in point: Baker’s Wife’s “I wish we might have a child” turned into, post-birth, “I wish we had more room.”
Considering that we’d heard the first series of “I wishes,” the movie should have given us the second series to prove that no matter how many wishes are granted, people always want more. Not having “Act Two Prologue” is a substantial loss.
“Agony” (Reprise) – Similarly speaking, in Act One we see Cinderella’s Prince and Rapunzel’s Prince in the throes of first love. Marshall and Lapine should have given us what Sondheim and Lapine offered us in the stage play: same melody, but much different lyrics that reflect that these guys have been married a while. Their eyes are roving, and the beauties to which they’re attracted seem to be as pure as the driven snow.
I’ve seen Into the Woods fourteen times, from its New York previews to productions in England, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio, and I’m always amused at how quickly audiences have picked up on the identities of the fair ladies.
“No More” – There’s a bit of incidental music of this song in the film but, uh, no more. The main reason is Mysterious Man (Aldredge again) has been excised from the film along with Narrator. The excision of the characters does make sense and keeps the longish film from being longer, but losing this hauntingly pretty piece of material is a sad loss.
Needless to say, the film doesn’t offer “Back to the Palace” or “Boom Crunch.” The former song, earmarked for Cinderella, was replaced by “On the Steps of the Palace” early on. The latter selection, originally sung by Witch (Bernadette Peters) during previews, gave way to “Last Midnight.” But Masterworks Broadway has included them as bonus tracks on the currently available CD release.
There is one piece of music in the film that you won’t find on this album, but you will find on the original cast and soundtrack albums of A Little Night Music.
What?!?! you say? No, it’s true. Sondheim’s “The Sun Won’t Set” is played as background music when The Prince is giving a ball. At the industry screening I attended, there were more than a few giggles of recognition as many of us were thinking “Do I hear a waltz? Very odd, but I hear a waltz that I know from another show.”
Well, they weren’t going to include Richard Rodgers’ melody for “The Prince Is Giving a Ball” from Cinderella, were they? Not after the tussles that Sondheim and Rodgers had had on – oh, never mind.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Friday at www.kritzerland.com/filichia.htm and at www.mtishows.com. His books on musicals are available at www.amazon.com.